Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A Sanctuary is Not a Petting Zoo!

As warmer weather approaches, sanctuaries that provide a permanent refuge for rescued farm animals are inundated with requests from people wishing to bring their young animal-loving children for a visit. Many envision taking their wide-eyed, excited child into a pen of loving, friendly animals who will let themselves be endlessly petted and cuddled and hand fed. This is, after all, the image they have seen in advertisements for commercial petting zoos. But a sanctuary is not a petting zoo. 

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a sanctuary is a place of “refuge or safety from pursuit, persecution, or other danger”, and “a place where injured or unwanted animals of a specified kind are cared for”. 

A petting zoo, on the other hand, usually buys young adult animals in the late winter or early spring, often from questionable sources with little regard to genetics or potential health issues. Then the petting zoo breeds them, puts them on display almost immediately, and lets excited kids with grabby hands stress both the babes and the mamas. Visitors are usually allowed – or encouraged – to feed them as well, regardless of how much the animals may have already eaten that day. Often the babes will be weaned and separated from the mother at the earliest possible age, in hopes that a second birthing will be possible before the end of summer, ready for the popular harvest money-makers like hay rides and corn mazes and pumpkin patches. 

Pumpkin patch?  I wouldn't mind visiting a pumpkin patch! 

And when the season is over and the money is no longer rolling in? The animals at most petting zoos are then sent to slaughter or sold - after all, by next tourist season they will no longer be babies that draw in the crowds, and feeding adults or youngsters through the winter months in order to breed them in the spring costs money. It's cheaper to dispose of the animals and buy new breeders the next year.  

Does that sound like a sanctuary to you?

Don't be a turkey!  That ain't no sanctuary!

At animal sanctuaries such as RASTA (Rescue And Sanctuary for Threatened Animals) in nearby Chemainus, the animals are residents who will live out their lives at a place that treats them with dignity and respect. It is a place that will not exploit or sell them, that will not breed them, and it is a place that will provide them with a safe haven for life.  

Garfunkel:  I hear strangers nearby - let's circle the wagon!

Tango and Romeo:  Why?  Is there food in it? 

Most of the animals have arrived at the sanctuary after pretty horrible lives – passed from home to home, or abused, or abandoned, deprived of appropriate veterinary care, and/or confined without companionship of their own kind or others. Many have significant health issues that require special diets and medications. Their food intake is carefully managed, in both quality and quantity, to ensure their nutritional needs are being met appropriately. This is not to say they don’t get regular treats – they certainly do – but not every time someone walks nearby. 

Excuse us!  We're having a snack!

Because of their varied and unfortunate backgrounds, some might bite or shove humans, some might have poor eyesight that mistakes a child’s hand for a treat, some might not have the dexterity to ‘take gently’ when food is offered. Even the scent of an unfamiliar human can make some animals who are normally friendly and even playful with regular volunteers retreat and/or become anxious.   

Help! Help!    There's a stranger in our house!

Oops, sorry, was that your finger I just chomped?

See these horns?  I'm really a gentle giant but if a fly tickles my tummy
and I swing my big head around to shoo it, you better shoo too! 

To be sure, many sanctuaries do offer tours at set times and days, nearly always by appointment only.  At RASTA, these educational tours (which include a presentation on factory farming) are restricted to very small groups on only one or two days a week so every person can be closely supervised and so the animals are not overwhelmed. 

Because sanctuaries give as much freedom as possible to their animals by allowing them to roam around with their animal friends in pastures or extra large fenced pens, safety – for visitors as well as for the animals - can be a challenge. Sanctuary volunteers have to make sure all visitors stay together, ensure no one sticks out a hand to an animal that might mistake it for a carrot, see that no one gets knocked down or left behind or wanders off, no one leaves a gate open or drops an inedible item in a pen. There can be no lollygagging to send a selfie to your friends while your group moves on to the next pen!

Oooh, looky here.....someone left the door open!

A plastic bag!  I found a plastic bag in here!

On an educational tour, discussion about the animals’ backgrounds and about animal treatment in commercial industry is not always suitable for young ears and may even upset sensitive adults. It is not a 'cute-fuzzy-wuzzy-let’s-go-feed-and-pat-the-animals' experience, though you may be lucky enough to be there when some of the more social animals wish to interact with you. But the decision is up to the animals, not you, and if Sociable Suzie decides she’d rather have a nap buried in the soft straw in her shelter, then Sociable Suzie gets to do just that.

No, thank you.  Not today.
 ^What she said ^ 

If you wish to take your kids or grandkids to the local petting zoo this summer, that is your choice. If you think your children are old enough and mature enough to visit a sanctuary, by all means request (well in advance) an appointment for an educational tour. But please don’t expect the same experience at a sanctuary as at a petting zoo. 

This is the animals’ home. This is their sanctuary, their safe space, their forever home. This is not a petting zoo. 

And now you know. 


Black Jack's Carol said...

Such an important post, Jean. It is well-written in a no-nonsense style that even manages to inject some humour within the confines of some very serious truths. Great photographs too! I'd like to share it. Will check if you left a link on facebook. Many thanks!

Anonymous said...

Well said.....when I was at the sanctuary, there was indeed a variety of "social characteristics" within the resident creatures....some very shy, some "couldn't care less" and .........well, lucky me, made friends with Sociable Suzie. LOL Never was a fan of petting zoos, but didn't know they actually "expired" the animals after a season, how totally despicable! Sanctuaries are like families, and we all have the bro who sits quietly in the corner, the Uncle who begs for attention at all the gatherings, the bossy auntie or mother....all families have a few of each, including animal families.

Terri said...

Awesome article Jean. I don't think you could make it any planner. too bad you will still have those who expect exactly what you told them not to expect. :-(
I love your photos and your captions. I hope those critters realize what a supporter they have in you.